Two sides of Sinead

September 21, 2007


Though the quality of her music has never lagged, Sinead O'Connor's career never fully recovered from the misunderstood 1992 incident when she tore up a picture of the Pope on "Saturday Night Live."

In recent years, the singer has devoted herself to a series of wonderful stylistic experiments, including "Sean-Nos Nua" (2002), a collection of traditional Irish songs, and "Throw Down Your Arms" (2005), her reggae excursion with the renowned rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. In July, she released her eighth album and her first set of all new material in seven years: "Theology," a double CD featuring many of the same songs on both discs, one recorded sparely with just voice and guitar in Dublin, and the other recorded in London with a more conventional rock band.

It's a startlingly powerful work, but as much as highlighting that accomplishment, her current tour is about reviewing an extraordinary career and reclaiming a musical legacy that remains one of the most impressive of the last quarter-century. I spoke with O'Connor the morning after the first show of a tour that brings her to Chicago on Sunday.

Q. When you perform the songs from "Theology," will you be doing the London or the Dublin versions?

A. To be honest, the bulk of the show is older stuff: It's kind of a revue. There are maybe three songs from "Theology," two of which are done with the band, but very softly -- somewhere half between the London and Dublin versions.

The audience coming to see me wouldn't necessarily know any of "Theology" yet. So of course, the advice everyone gave me was it would be better for me to do older songs, and I'm enjoying reconnecting with those. At first, it was kind of freaky, because I hadn't done a lot of the songs for a long time -- some of them for 20 years!

Q. Where did you get the idea of recording two versions of "Theology"?

A. First of all, I loved the idea of making an acoustic record with just voice and guitar, because the audience never gets to hear what a song sounds like when the artist is sitting there writing it. Like, I'd love to hear a Mariah Carey record where she was just sitting at home in her pajamas with a guitar and a milk shake, you know? So I wanted to show what can be done with the evolution, but it was actually an accident that I ended up doing the two versions.

I had been fooling around in the studio with my friend, [producer] RonTom, singing these songs just for a laugh -- I was going to work on a different record with him -- but when I told him that, he begged me to let him work on these songs as well. So I said, "OK, but I'll release them both," because I was very attached to the acoustic versions as well.

I think the two versions work well in the end, because with the subject material, I liked the idea of musically being able to show how certain people can take the same set of scriptures and do completely different things with them, and I wanted to show that musically -- the vastly different slant that can be put on the same theology.

Q. Do you feel as if you're still suffering some fallout in the States because of your religious views and the "Saturday Night Live" incident?

A. No, now they've got Britney Spears! [Laughs] I can't believe the way they treat her.

To be honest, I don't notice if there's any fallout, because genuinely I don't care. I'm sure my management and certain people around me would be happy if I had shut my mouth and puckered up years ago, because they'd be making a lot more money if I had. But I really don't give a s---; I'm just happy to be working.